Jay Frank’s life was on a path that gave no hint that there’d be a day when a pastor would show up at his hospital bed to tell him about a ministry serving addicts. Jay had a solid Catholic education, graduated from law school, and, at different times in his life was a teacher, lawyer and a lobbyist (all while living in Alaska), as well as a teacher in a local prep school. But the disease of alcoholism, rampant in his family, grabbed hold of him.
Shawn Fisher said he had his “a-ha moment and wow moment” at once – while lying in a nursing home bed, looking down at the tubes protruding from his torso, which were doing for him what his ravaged body couldn’t do. Keep him alive.
Decades of unbridled alcohol abuse caught up with Shawn one day in March 2016, when his advanced pancreatitis triggered a stroke. Over the next days, while his family prayed fervently, his bodily systems would begin to shut down, one by one, and doctors told everyone to prepare for the worst.
We know that volunteering to serve others – at Jericho, we call it “being the hands and feet of Jesus” – is a blessing to those who receive your time, compassion and love.
But what about the volunteer? Recent research has determined that there are some surprising benefits to the person sharing his or her time with others.
Here are five unexpected benefits of volunteering:
Drug abuse hung like a dark cloud over Clarence Bouie for 17 years of his life, causing all the hurt and despair one might imagine.
“I thought I’d be dead or in prison,” Clarence said of his younger self. “But I let God do His plan.”
That plan has led Clarence down some twists and turns, and through more than one treatment program, but today, with 11.5 years of being clean under his belt, Clarence is living a life filled with joy, with Jesus, and with a new part-time job at Jericho Partnership. A life, transformed!
This new position on Jericho’s facilities team represents a life come full circle; Clarence was a client at Discipleship House, a residential ministry that is now a component of Jericho’s Good Samaritan Mission. And even though Clarence is now on the payroll, it’s far from his first encounter with Jericho Partnership. On the contrary, Clarence has been a Jericho volunteer (as well as paid summer staff) for about eight years – working primarily with kids at our Spring Street Neighborhood Center.
“My mother always said, ‘when something good happens, it happens for a reason. But it ain’t no good if you don’t give back,’” he said. So, for several years now, he’s been dispensing love – and even tough love, because he knows the kinds of challenges they face – to the kids at Spring Street.
“I love those kids,” he said. “When I see them smile, I’m good. I’m content. I don’t need no Rolls Royce or a big house on the hill. When I go home, I just can’t wait to wake up again and go back to Jericho.”
Clarence’s road to recovery began in Maryland (he’s from Annapolis) and went through a program called Teen Challenge in Rochester, NY. That program, which was also for adults, provided counseling and education aimed at helping clients stay off drugs. He graduated without a real plan for his life, and soon experienced pain with his back. That, he said, is where the enemy got a foothold.
“I felt the enemy saying, ‘I got ya now because you didn’t have a plan,’” Clarence said. God once again led him to Pivot Ministry in Bridgeport, where he also found some temporary success. A final push led him to Danbury, and our ministry here.
“That place is where I was discipled. I got my high school diploma. I got my own apartment. I got a job,” he said. “Now, I enjoy my life the right way. Jericho keeps me sane. It keeps me clean.”
Throughout his challenging years, Clarence had a relationship with the Lord. “I was baptized in the Church of Christ at age 28. We fall. It ain’t about how you fall; it’s about how you get up.”
Clarence will share his story of transformation at Jericho’s Annual Gala on December 1; the theme for the night is “transformation through mentoring,” and Clarence’s journey is rich with people who he says have spoken truth – even difficult truth – into his life.
“So many different people told me what I needed to hear, but in a positive helpful tone,” he said. “When I am in a depressed mood, I just go see them. I don’t have to go find the drug man – I just go to Jericho Partnership.”
Jericho Partnership is several months into CityServe, a joint initiative with the city of Danbury designed to reach into new pockets of need in our city. Here’s an update on the two main projects within the initiative – Project CleanStart and our South Street School Partnership.
They endured the hottest of summer days out on Danbury’s streets, picking up trash, painting fire hydrants, pulling weeds, cleaning the parking garage, and more – and now that Project CleanStart is breaking for the winter, participants and volunteers can look back on a successful pilot program.
“This program was an overwhelming success,” said Jericho’s Harry Pugner, who served as CleanStart project manager. Over the course of the program, which began this spring, 20 homeless men and women participated; all but eight finished, and today, five of them have secured at least part-time jobs outside of the program.
CleanStart was designed to impart valuable life and job skills to our homeless neighbors as they worked on projects selected by the city; each participant (vetted to ensure they were engaged with case managers) worked two four-hour shifts per week under the supervision of Jericho volunteers, who served as team leaders and job coaches. As the program progressed, some worked four days in a week. At the end of each week, team members received compensation in the form of gift cards.
Before the program ended, each team member was required to fill out a job application and go through an interview process, as if they were applying for an actual job, Pugner said.
“This project next gave the team members a positive look at how our city government cares for this population,” said Pugner. “It also allowed CityCenter merchants the opportunity to get a better perception of those in need. A few of the merchants thanked the team members, provided them with water, and let them use their restrooms.”
“The work we do at Jericho is always about transforming lives, and this program has had a direct impact on the lives of 20 people who are facing difficult challenges – not to mention how it impacted our volunteers and anyone who witnessed how our homeless neighbors contributed to the beautification of our city,” said Carrie L. Amos, Jericho’s President.
South Street School Partnership
Four mornings a week, just as the school day begins, South Street Elementary School’s cafeteria is filled with the sound of reading. Adults reading to kids; kids reading back to adults. Laughter and high-fives. This is the sound of progress.
The Reading Buddy program is into the third month of its second full semester at the school. Today, 25 students are being mentored by volunteers who desire to help them improve their reading skills. Plans are in place to double the census during this academic year, according to Jericho President Carrie L. Amos. The need is great.
You see, these children are from families where English is not spoken at home. Many have parents who are immigrants and, for a variety of reasons, simply cannot help them with their studies. So they fall behind. Far behind. Jericho’s Reading Buddy program – underway at this Title I school recommended by Danbury school officials – is already making an impact.
Although the program is still so new, those participating have either maintained or slightly improved the grade level at which they can read and comprehend. Others – who struggle with other challenges in addition to reading – are making untold progress simply by demonstrating an ability to sit with volunteer Reading Buddies.
“Each of these children has needs we might never fully comprehend, but each of them has the potential to soar,” said Amos. “Our Reading Buddy program helps unlock this potential by addressing a most basic skill – the ability to read. The volunteers who work with these children are such a gift. We can’t turn our backs on these kids, so we DO need more volunteers to serve even just one hour per week, in the morning before most people go to work, to work with these students,” she said.
If you’d like to help unlock the future for these children, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and say you’d like to be a Reading Buddy.
Pastor Jim Wiley, Assistant Pastor at First Assembly of God, Brookfield, volunteers as a Team Leader for CleanStart, the joint Jericho/City of Danbury initiative that helps our homeless neighbors learn job readiness skills by engaging in clean-up and other projects on city property. We asked him to share how being part of this ministry has impacted him.
One of the first things that came to me when this pilot came about was, “what a wonderful way to help instill value and worth into an individual.” So often, our friends within the homeless community have been given labels – all too frequently, undeserved. But they constantly hear this, and after a while, they sometimes can’t help but to fall into the trap where they may actually believe it. This program gives them the opportunity to dispel those labels, and prove to their accusers, to those around them, and even to themselves that they are of value. That they are of worth. That they can contribute to his community if only given a chance.
Isn’t that, in part, what Jericho is about? Giving second chances? Giving folks an opportunity to prove themselves? Since I have been involved with The Jericho Partnership, it’s always been about transformation. For the community, yes, but it always starts with the individual. The CleanStart workers I have been serving alongside have worked hard, with grateful and appreciative hearts, to put their best foot forward, welcoming this transformational opportunity to move themselves forward. Men and women, saving money, moving out of homelessness, making the best of the doors that have been opened for them.
Praise God that Jericho continues to be an organization that God works through, to open these doors and to provide hope for the hopeless. God does indeed transform ashes into beauty. I have seen it firsthand through Jericho’s CleanStart Program.
CleanStart will continue through the end of October, and we still need volunteers. If you would like to invest a few hours a week working alongside people who are working to improve their lives, contact Volunteer Coordinator Angie Rogers at email@example.com.
Filling nearly an entire wall, the painting is one of the first things you see when you enter the Good Samaritan Center. First, it catches your eye. Then, when you look a little more closely, it captures your heart… and the heart of what takes place every day at the homeless shelter.
The stunning painting, by New Milford artist Bryn Gillette, was dedicated last week at a gathering at the shelter, which is run by Good Samaritan Mission, a Jericho Partner Ministry. Those who use the shelter, as well as men who live in transitional housing at the mission, were a vast majority of the audience. The image, showing a man knelling over a needy traveler and pouring out healing and love, was held up as a beautiful depiction of GMS’s mission.
“Sometimes, people come into the shelter, and they don’t necessarily know you and what you do… so what better example could we have than this painting?” said Mark Grasso, GSM’s director. “This painting sums up what we’re about. As Christian believers, we believe that everyone is our neighbor. We’re not supposed to decide who our neighbor is. We’re not supposed to decide for whom we have compassion. So this painting sums that up, and it also gives people something to remember us by.”
Bryn shared the inspiration for his creation, which he painted several weeks earlier during a day of worship at the Center.
“I feel deeply humbled and not worthy of special recognition for a painting,” he said. “It’s truly my joy. When the spirit touches me, as He will touch each one of us uniquely, this is what I do. I see images… So this is my sweet spot, to come and really soak in the Spirit of what this place means and what the Lord is doing here, and capture that in an image.”
Bryn said that Hal Robbins, the shelter’s manager, “did an incredible job cultivating a day-long environment of worship, prayer, and teaching that provided fertile soil for the painting to naturally grow. In the few hours I spent painting live in their space, I was surrounded by participants, teachers, testimonies, and worship, all centered around the essence of being a true and self-sacrificing neighbor to those in need.
“I was so thrilled to allow my act of painting to be a physical manifestation of that very posture, and I based the imagery around Jesus’ classic parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10. The image started with the image of “Zion” in the top left, and the descent into the brokenness of life and human choices from those passing by an “enemy and foreigner” in need.
Bryn continued, “I tried to emphasize the humanity and physical presence of need that was lovingly confronted by the unlikely generous Samaritan. As the tale reads left to right, the descending road continues to the village where the victim was housed and provided for at the inn. The colors and sense of light around the figures are meant to convey the collapsing space between our physical actions and the spiritual Kingdom, brought near by our choices to love the Lord with our heart, mind, and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves.
“May this image pull that same Spirit from heaven to earth, standing as a permanent testament at the Good Samaritan; praying without words: ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.'”